The Royal Exchange’s decision to stage The Producers as their Christmas show is a risky choice to make. Like most of Mel Brooks’ work, it is unashamedly controversial. It satirically depicts the lengths that failing Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, will go to in order to make money. With his accountant, Leo Bloom, he comes to the realisation that you can make more money when a production flops. Together, they set out to make the worst play ever, Springtime for Hitler, ‘a gay romp with Adolf and Eva’. Deliberately poking fun at Hitler, with gay, singing, tap-dancing Nazis, The Producers is offensive and insulting, yet absolutely hilarious. So where does it go right?
This musical hinges on the relationship between its two protagonists, Bialystock and Bloom. Julius D’Silva and Stuart Neal are wonderful in these roles, creating the perfect bromance that is infectiously warming. D’Silva exudes charm as the suave, smooth-talking Bialystock. Neal gives an equally brilliant performance as the accountant who dreams of being a producer. His nervous mannerisms and the terrified inflections in his voice wonderfully capture Leo Bloom’s nature. Neal made me feel exhausted just watching him. I have the utmost admiration that he can do this performance night after night, particularly when Leo Bloom has hysterics. I feel that Neal may need a blue blanket of his own.
Likewise, each member of the ensemble cast are phenomenally talented. There are no weak performances. Charles Brunton excels as the overtly gay director, Roger De Bris. I literally roared with laughter at his portrayal of Hitler. Hammed Animashaun is also delightfully camp as his assistant, with the best ‘walk this way’ joke I have seen since Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Emily-Mae also deserves a mention, as she cleverly makes Ulla a three-dimensional character, who is much more than a sex object. This is evident through the incredible chemistry she shares with Stuart Neal’s Leo Bloom. Their duet, ‘That Face’, is a beautifully moving moment in the play.
I initially had reservations about how it would be possible to stage such a large musical production on the Royal Exchange’s intimate in-the-round theatre. However, The Producers is choreographed to perfection by Alistair David. It permeates the entire production, from the impeccable timing of the mechanical, robot-like accountants who are ‘very, very, very, very unhappy’ with their jobs, right down to the excellent puppetry of Franz’s Nazi pigeons. The ingenious application of a revolving stage means that the vast musical numbers, involving the entire ensemble, are executed with precision. No matter where you sit, you will get the same experience. Transitions between songs are also remarkably seamless. It is an astonishing production that deserves the highest praise.
As Max Bialystock says, ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it!’. The Producers definitely has it, and certainly flaunts it! Nothing does this more than the show’s climax, the hilariously controversial Springtime for Hitler. It is genuinely the funniest thing I have ever seen in the theatre. With more sequins than Strictly Come Dancing, it has sparkly Swastikas, glitter bombs, and an overtly camp Hitler ‘with a song in his heart’. What can be more festive than this?
The Producers is by far the best play I have watched this year. It is hilariously funny. I cried laughing and my cheeks hurt from smiling. It is utterly delightful. So delightful, I am going to watch it many times!